Now that His Dark Materials has hit its stride, it seems as though showrunner and screenwriter Jack Thorne is more confident in his adaptation of Pullman’s novels. One of the things that particularly struck me is that Thorne isn’t content to simply adapt Pullman’s first novel, Northern Lights, to the screen. Instead, he’s spending a fair amount of time setting up elements from The Subtle Knife, making it more of an adaptation of the trilogy as opposed to novel-by-novel. Whilst this has led to Thorne drastically increasing the role of Lord Boreal/Charles Latrom (Ariyon Bakare) – an idea I understand but I do feel hinders the future story-lines in the show – I am starting to appreciate exactly why this is being done, even if I wouldn’t have approached the series this way myself.
The Lost Boy introduces us to Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and his mother Elaine (Nina Sosanya), the son and wife of John Parry/Stanislaus Grumman (Andrew Scott, whose head was encased in a block of ice in the first episode). Will is essentially the second lead of the trilogy and although he doesn’t actually appear until The Subtle Knife, I do understand Thorne wanting to introduce him earlier on to create the parallels with Lyra. Wilson is very good as Will and I’m interested to see how he handles the more complex emotional arc coming up, whilst Sosanya manages to capture Will’s mother perfectly, based on how Pullman describes her in the books. I was initially hesitant about introducing Will in a boxing match but I can understand that it’s less about demonstrating Will as being violent, but showing his strength needed for the adventures ahead. I don’t think that the production team have accurately represented Will’s home life either. Some of the dialogue, plus bits of what Pullman describes in The Subtle Knife, allude to a very working class background for Will and Elaine but they seem to be living very comfortably, even if Will has to step-up as his mother’s carer.
I do find it interesting that Thorne’s script confirms that the mysterious men Elaine mentions encountering in The Subtle Knife are actually Boreal and his men, as this is left very ambiguous in Pullman’s novel. I’m not sure if it ruins the ambiguity to actually see Boreal harass Elaine, even going as far as to introduce himself as Charles Latrom, his Will-world alter-ego. Thorne’s writing in His Dark Materials and generally is very strong and he writes good dialogue, but he can sometimes falter in how to structure narratives – see his script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for example. He’s a good writer but sometimes lack subtlety in his handling of key plot-points, and I think that His Dark Materials in its TV incarnation could have used a bit of that.
Meanwhile, Lyra, Pan and Iorek go looking for a ghost hidden in a small village, only to discover that it is in fact Billy Costa separated from his Daemon, Ratter. This is yet another deviation from the book, as the boy discovered in the village is a new character, Tony Makarios, in Northern Lights, and many fans have pointed out on social media that in the original scene, he holds a dead fish to mimic his Daemon and can actually talk to Lyra. In this adaptation though, Tony is swapped for Billy – a character we’re actually familiar with, which is an understandable decision – and he’s half-dead when Lyra and Pan discover him. I can understand fans’ criticisms with the changes but I actually don’t mind them. The scene still exudes atmosphere and whilst I would have been tempted to drag the build-up out even longer, I was hooked on the edge of my seat. It’s a very unnerving moment in the story and a very sinister twist in what at first seems like a children’s tale. Billy’s death at the hands of the Magisterium may not be in the novel but it does help to motivate the Gyptians further to go to war with the Church, and nicely resolves the story-line of Billy’s disappearance, which otherwise doesn’t get much of a satisfying resolution in Pullman’s novel. It’s a change that may not please some, but I appreciate why Thorne decided to take this route, and the performances from Dafne Keen and Anne-Marie Duff’s Ma Costa really sell the impact of Billy’s demise.
Before this though, we do get some lighter touches to The Lost Boy, with Lyra riding on Iorek’s back across the snowy wastelands of the North. It’s a wonderful sequence to watch and whilst the visual effects aren’t quite there, they do sell the moment much better than I had feared. Generally, Lyra’s interactions with Iorek work really, really well, be it because of how great Dafne Keen is at working with CGI characters, or just how well produced the scenes are. Iorek never feels fake or as if he’s not actually with Lyra, even if the CGI can sometimes look a little rubbery. There’s no uncanny valley and the interactions feel genuine, which sells the effect perfectly. I’m definitely looking forward to the bear fight at the end of the season.
As the episode drew to a close though, His Dark Materials wasn’t content to just leave Lyra and the Gyptians in terrible grief, but to let her get kidnapped by Tartars and taken to The Station/Bolvangar, so she can be separated from Pantalaimon forever. Next week’s episode looks like its going to a difficult one to watch, but the series has been building up to it and it looks like its going to be a good one. Lyra’s hardships are not over yet…